End of an affair?
(The Economist) Sept. 10, 2009 - After two decades of sometimes fervent Atlanticism in the ex-communist world, disillusionment (some would call it realism) is growing. At its height the bond between eastern Europe and America was based, like the best marriages, on a mixture of emotion and mutual support. The romance dates from the cold war: when western Europe was sometimes squishy in dealing with the Soviet empire, America was robust. When the Iron Curtain fell, ex-dissidents and retired cold warriors found they had plenty in common. America pushed for the expansion of NATO, guaranteeing the east Europeans' security. In return, ex-communist countries loyally supported America, particularly in providing troops for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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Illustration by Peter Schrank
That relationship is now looking more wobbly. A new poll (see chart) by the German Marshall Fund, a think-tank, shows that western Europe is now much more pro-American and pro-NATO than the ex-communist east. Until last year, the eastern countries swallowed their misgivings about George Bush, while the west of the continent writhed in distaste at what many saw as his administration's incompetence and heavy-handedness.
The ascent of Barack Obama has boosted America's image in most countries, but only modestly in places like Poland and Romania. Among policymakers in the east, the dismay is tangible. In July, 22 senior figures from the region, including Vaclav Havel and Lech Walesa, wrote a public letter bemoaning the decline in transatlantic ties.
One reason is that the Obama administration is rethinking a planned missile-defence system, which would have placed ten interceptor rockets in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic, in order to guard against Iranian missile attacks on America and much of Europe. That infuriated Russia, which saw the bases as a blatant push into its front yard. Changing the scheme--probably using seaborne interceptors--risks looking like a climb-down to suit Russian interests.
Poland is also worried that a promised battery of Patriot air-defence missiles, originally to protect the interceptors, may now be only a temporary loan of dummy rockets for training purposes--"just a sales exercise", says an official in Warsaw, crossly. America says it never intended to station real rockets there permanently.
The administration also botched its participation in Poland's 70th anniversary commemoration of the start of the second world war on September 1st. Other countries, including Russia and Germany, sent top people. America, initially, offered only a retired Clinton-era official. William Perry, who was a notable sceptic about NATO expansion. After squawks of dismay, Jim Jones, the national security adviser, went too. But Poles sensed a snub.